Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Social Gains Are on Way Out –
IF Labor Permits

(26 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 21, 26 May 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The two campaign promises of political Big-Boss Roosevelt that got him most votes were: (1) to keep the country out of the war, and (2) to preserve the social gains that his administration falsely claims to be responsible for, but which actually were forced from him by labor’s strength.

The first promise has gone the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire travelled by the great majority of campaign promises. It is about to drag in its wake a bewildered, uninformed, unwilling people into the world conflagration started by the pyromaniac imperialists of the warring countries – IF LABOR PERMITS.

The second promise is fast going the same way. IF LABOR PERMITS, maximum hours and minimum wages, unemployment insurance, laws protecting women and children in industry, government jobs for the unemployed, relief for the destitute – these will all go up in the smoke of that everlasting bonfire of campaign promises, mingled with the denser, darker and more deadly smoke of the war.

The Forty Hour Week

Sidney Hillman, now identified with labor only by the mask he still wears, is willing to sap the working class of its vital energy for the sake of producing the means of murder that the boss-imperialists require, and trots out the four-shift 160-hour week plan. But the bosses – as revealed by the New York Times, seconded by boss sheets all over the country – are not satisfied with Hillman’s plan. THEY WANT THE FORTY-HOUR WEEK ABOLISHED.

Said the Times editorially on May 9:

“From no one in the Administration, unfortunately, has there yet come any candid and realistic consideration or the problem of the working week in defense economy and the relation to it of our present wage-hour law. Obviously the law deliberately discourages a working week of more than forty hours by its penalty of a 50 per cent wage increase for any hours above that. IT WOULD CERTAINLY SEEM REASONABLE TO AMEND THE LAW FOR THE PERIOD OF THE EMERGENCY SO THAT THIS HEAVY OVERTIME PENALTY DOES NOT BEGIN UNTIL AFTER A WORKING WEEK OF FORTY-EIGHT HOURS.”

It is not for nothing that the spokesmen for the bosses make such criticisms and suggestions. They indicate that tremendous pressure is being put on Congress – through the many avenues open to the bosses for controlling Congress – to abolish the forty-hour week.

This, obviously, is a simultaneous ATTACK UPON THE WAGES OF THE WORKERS. “Longer hours for less pay” is the slogan of the bosses. And out of the thinner pay envelopes the workers are expected to meet the cost of living which in some sections of the country has already risen by 25 per cent.

Still fancier schemes are being cooked up that will beat to the ground the standard of living of the working people – IF LABOR PERMITS. The question of paying for their war is topmost in the minds of the boss-imperialists. They want to eat their cake and have it. They want to win against the Hitler imperialist camp the cream of the world markets and at the same time to keep the bulk of the profits made in the production of tanks, bombers and battleships. The income tax that will take in the poorest of the poor, and slice off a big chunk of every worker’s pay, is not the only scheme for this purpose. Nor is the plan to sell war stamps and bonds fast becoming almost compulsory – the only way to reach into the sagging pockets of the workers.

A Visitor from Abroad

There came to this country the other day Maynard Keynes, bourgeois professor and economist, representative of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, to teach the American bosses and politicians the methods their British counterparts use to pick clean the pockets of the working people of that unhappy country. He informs the willing students of how to squeeze the workers, that there is still another arrangement they use in “democratic” Britain. This is called “deferred pay:” Piled on top of the staggering taxes in England collected by the bosses from the workers’ pay – and piled on top of all the other burdens borne by labor, a certain additional percentage of each person’s salary or income is also withheld by the employer. This is not called a tax, mind you, but “deferred pay” – because the British government promises to return this money to its owners – after the war. Such promises, you must understand, go to the same bonfire that consumes campaign promises. “Deferred pay” is in store for the American workers also IF LABOR PERMITS.

Professor Keynes bluntly states that “deferred pay” lowers the standard of living of’ the people. With less money, they can buy less of the necessities of life. But the well-fed professor justifies this on the basis that “deferred pay” is the solution for war inflation. This clever economist cold-bloodedly explains that if people don’t have money with which to buy the necessities of life, the lack or demand will keep the prices down! He fails to state, however, that the British bosses hope to make the wartime coolie standard of living the standard for the post-war period also – IF LABOR PERMITS.

Longer hours; less pay, mounting cost of living, unbearable taxes, forced purchasing of war stamps and bonds, “deferred’ pay” – these are the blows about to fall upon the social gains that the “Friend of the workers” in the White House promised to preserve. And in an attempt to make labor defenseless against the coming blows, the Vinson anti-strike law looms on the horizon in Congress. And the state legislatures are busy putting legal shackles on labor’s limbs, as well as preparing military guards, armed in the modern way, to use against workers who fight for their rights.

“IT IS AMAZlNG,” the smart British professor assures the American exploiters, “WHAT REGULATION PEOPLE WILL TAKE IN WARTIME.” That, working men and women, is another way of telling the bosses here that the sooner they declare war, the sooner can these major blows fall upon you – IF YOU PERMIT.

Other Gains in Jeopardy

Just as the gains in wages and hours stand in jeopardy, so do all the other measures affecting the welfare of the workers.

Unemployment insurance, one of the brightest plumes the Roosevelt Administration has pilfered for its cap, has received a wallop. In the Empire State of the Union, on April 25th, Governor Lehman signed the Burney Bill. Very quietly the event was buried on the inside pages of the papers. The Burney Bill states that workers who “quit their jobs” will be barred from unemployment insurance benefits. Thus the sword of intimidation has been placed over the heads of striking workers who heretofore have received unemployment benefits, such as they were.

In Connecticut, night work for women has now become legal in spite of a law prohibiting the employment of women after 10 p.m. The governor simply invoked another law giving him the right to suspend this protection for women DURING AN EMERGENCY. There are thousands of such “emergency” laws throughout the country gradually being enforced against the “social gains” labor has made. In Germany too, all social security for the workkers was suspended “during the emergency.”

Destitute people; who subsist now on relief payments, are in danger of having even this crust of bread taken out of their mouths. Representative Doughten, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; wants the state and local government to “take back” the cost of relief “to ease the federal tax burden.” The state of California, always slow to grant “social gains” and quick to remove them, has already referred the matter of relief back to the counties – where it was before destitute people got any relief at all. While private charities – subsidized by the rich to salve their guilty conscience – fearing the deserted poor will again be left at therr door, are protesting that they have no money either because of “inroads” of increased taxation on war relief appeals.

Lastly, let us hear Representative Tabor from New York. He waxed so enthusiastic the other day over cutting “non-defense” expenditures that he proposed to slash the WPA federal budget allowance from $995,000,000 to $195,000,000 – a small deduction of $800,000,000. According to Philip Murray, president of the CIO, the budget allowance of $995,000,000 for the coming year will at best provide jobs for only 1,000,000 jobless people. Mr. Murray estimates that, even after the war jobs are handed out, there will still be 7,000,000 unemployed during the coming year. SO WHERE ARE THE SOCIAL GAINS FOR THE JOBLESS?

Unemployment insurance, protection for women and children, home relief, WPA – along with the Wage-Hour Act – are on the to-be-fired list of the bosses and their politicians; and will be fired IF LABOR PERMITS.

The Fight on Our Hands

The workers have a fight on their hands – and IT IS NOT THE INTERNATIONAL IMPERIALIST WAR NOW RAGING.

THEY MUST OPPOSE THE WAR. It is being used as an excuse, to enslave the workers and beat down their standard of living.

They must fight THEIR OWN WAR – the class war against the bosses.

They must set up a hue and cry against every infringement of workers’ protection in industry, and stand ready not only to defend but to EXTEND their hard-won gains. They must demand government jobs for the jobless with union pay and hours and adequate government relief for those who cannot work.

These are some of the tasks for the workers.

LABOR MUST LOOK AFTER ITSELF! Neither political Big-Boss Roosevelt nor anyone else will do it for the workers.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2020